"Madman Or Slave, Must Man Be One?"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: "A Summer Night" is Arnold's lyric portrayal of what he sees as most men's status in life. On the one hand there are men who "in a brazen prison live" and give their lives "to some unmeaning taskwork" until "Gloom settles slowly down over their breast." The next twenty-three lines of the poem discuss the second group, the madmen. In this stanza a sea motif is used to picture man as a "freed prisoner" determined to go somewhere but losing all direction because of the lack of a definite or tangible goal. In reaction to both ways of life, Arnold voices the question, "Is there no life, but these alone?" The final stanza contains an answer. Close contact with and the study of nature are the means by which men can realize direction and purpose and find fulfillment.

Is there no life, but these alone?
Madman or slave, must man be one?
Plainness and clearness without shadow of stain!
Clearness divine!
Ye heavens, whose pure dark regions have no sign
Of languor, though so calm, and, though so great,
Are yet untroubled and unpassionate;
Who, though so noble, share in the world's toil,
And, though so task'd, keep free from dust and soil!